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Other titles in the 30 Days of Night series:
Rumors of the Undead: 30 Days of Night, Book 1 (30 Days of Night)by Steve Niles and Jeff Mariotte
Morning sun, diffused by the yellow brown haze that snugged over the Los Angeles basin like a toxic cap slowly strangling the life out of its citizens, eliminated the Slumber Motel's only advantage: neon so old it looked retro. It was one of those typical Hollywood joints that tourists sometimes accidentally picked off the Internet. Usually they realized the error of their choice before checking in, and switched to one of the national chains. If they didn't, then their first night's lullaby was dealers and hookers plying their trades, the shopping cart people collecting bottles from the trash cans around the vending machines, junkies hitting up guests for smokes and spare change. The cops came around once in a while, but they preferred to stay away if at all possible. Even the scrawny palms shed their fronds and stood bare, jaundiced and sickly, as if they'd rather die than live too close to the faded pastel box.
Andy Gray knew that crime was a given at a place like this. Only the presence of yellow crime scene tape wound around the trunks of the spindly palms and tied to the rusty iron banister and the squad car sitting at the curb with two uniforms inside it were unusual. Andy left his Bureau ride, a standard gray Crown Vic, and walked up to the black-and-white, waving his ID at the two young cops.
They emerged from their car, stretched out the kinks. "Help you?" the male cop asked.
Andy scanned the man's brass nameplate. "Special Agent Andrew Gray, FBI," he said, passing over the leather folder with his shield and ID card. "I need a closer look at the crime scene, Officer Ybarra."
Ybarra checked out Andy's identification, then smiled broadly. His teeth were white and straight, accentuated by his dark olive skin. His partner, a woman named Coggins, was almost a foot shorter, but solid. She kept her lips pressed together in a thin line as she handed him a clipboard. Andy added his signature to the list of those who had come before him. "CSIs have been here all night," Ybarra told him. "But they're gone now, so I guess it's all yours."
A rookie, then. LA cops had never routinely referred to the criminalists who examined crime scenes as CSIs until the TV show came along. There were too many specialties — medical examiners, latent print examiners, forensic anthropologists, photographers, trace evidence examiners. A cop with more experience might have said, "The CSIU has been here all night." The crime scene investigation unit covered all bases, and cops — forever going up against criminal defense attorneys who'd grasp at any straw they were offered — needed to learn to speak precisely. Andy guessed that the CSIU had, in fact, spent the night here, with the possible exception of the medical examiner. MEs only came out when there were dead bodies on hand.
Trouble was, Andy was pretty sure there had been a dead body in that hotel room.
The fact that nobody knew the body was dead was the whole problem.
He turned away from the cops and looked over the scene, trying to take it in as it was now without remembering what he'd been told about the events of the night before. What he'd seen when he got to the LA office.
Jacob Paul Norris. Andy's partner. Dead man walking.
The science of modern crime scene examination had pretty much been invented by the FBI. He remembered what he had learned at Quantico, that approaching a crime scene with preconceptions blinded you to the reality of the situation. Andy Gray emptied his mind and opened his senses.
The stink of rush hour traffic fumes along Sunset.
Glass on the parking lot surface, glittering in the morning light. Some of it tinged with red.
Blood — pools of it, almost black on the macadam. More splashed against the pale yellow stucco walls.
Small puddles of something else, on the sidewalk that ran along in front of the rooms. A housekeeper's cart had been caught in the crossfire. The puddles were probably shampoo, cleansers, solvents, something like that. Forensics would confirm that for him.
Chips out of the stucco. Bullet holes. At least a hundred, he guessed.
Motel room windows shattered. Curtains swaying gently in the breeze that also fluttered the crime scene tape, making a noise like a kid with a playing card in his bicycle spokes.
Another smell, metallic, underlying the exhaust fumes. Copper. Blood.
And a third, fainter still. Familiar. Andy searched his memory and came up with it.
Staying where he was, Andy turned slowly, taking in the surroundings. A block wall at the end of the parking lot — part of a liquor store. Sunset Boulevard — cars slowing so their occupants could gape at the wreckage of the motel. Like traffic didn't already suck bad enough. Across the street, a tattoo parlor, then a trendy bar, then the Standard Hotel with its upside-down sign. Cute.
Andy lived in Sacramento with his wife and two daughters, but he'd been spending so much time in LA, he was beginning to hate it as only a native could.
Only days ago, there had been yellow tape around the Standard, too, but the hotel's owners carried more weight with the city than the Pakistani family that owned the cleverly named Slumber Motel. A woman had been murdered at the Standard. Shot. Didn't even make the evening news. The Olemaun woman had been checked into the next room, but she'd vanished. She was, officially, a "Person of Interest" to the LAPD. She had already been that to the Bureau.
Andy shrugged. He'd seen enough out here. He would demand copies of all the CSIU's reports and fill in any blanks that way. Time to look at what he had really come here for.
He returned to the Crown Vic. From a kit in the trunk he took some plastic booties and tied them on around his ankles, covering his shoes. The CSIU had already taken their pictures and measurements and samples, so he wasn't concerned about Locard's principle of exchange. Andy wasn't going to contaminate the crime scene by looking at it, but if the stories he'd heard were true, he had no interest in contaminating his own shoes by stepping into that room unprotected. For the same reason, he tugged on latex gloves. The dark suit was off the rack from JC Penney, and if he got anything on it he could expense the dry cleaning. But the shoes were Bally, a gift from his wife. Not cheap — not on his salary.
So outfitted, he crossed the parking lot to the door of Room 7. The door was closed but not locked. He turned the knob, pushed it open.
Even though the window facing onto the parking lot had been blown out, fresh air still hadn't cleansed the stench inside. This was where the meat smell had come from, and a lot of the blood. It looked like Paul had been moonlighting as a butcher, running his own slaughterhouse from the room.
The blood was everywhere. Some of it was fresh, still liquid, some brown and crusted on surfaces as if it had been there for days. Spatter on the walls and pictures and mirrors, drip patterns on the ugly gray carpeting and the once white bedspread. Puddles drying on the fake wood veneer of the dresser and the little round dining table.
He continued into the bathroom. A sink with a mirror over it, a toilet, a bathtub with a shower, and a small opaque glass window that probably opened onto the alley. A towel rack that had probably held cheap white hotel towels. The CSIU had taken those. Andy could see spots where they'd swabbed the blood in here, but plenty was left behind. If he had to guess, and Andy Gray didn't like guessing, he'd say there had been multiple violent deaths in this small, dank room.
The mirror was filmed with red as though somebody had feebly attempted cleaning the gore. Through the crimson screen, Andy caught a glimpse of a man as bland as his name. Short, graying hair; sallow skin; the look of a man who spent too much of his time inside or in the dark. He didn't want to examine himself any closer and looked away.
The sink looked like a painter had been cleaning brushes in it — a monochromatic painter, at that. Paul's red period. Even — Andy felt his gorge rise, fought to keep down his coffee-shop breakfast — the sides of the toilet were coated with the stuff. Chips in the porcelain showed bone fragments as well.
Good Lord, what had gone on in here?
Something on the tile floor. Andy bent over, afraid to kneel in this place. Pulled a pen from his pocket and used it to nudge the tiny object. A tuft of fur. He scanned the rest of the floor, still bent over. A tiny tooth in one spot, something else that might have been a cockroach's carapace. He had been told that they had actually recovered animal parts from here — rats, insects, lizards. All of them ripped open, desiccated.
All of them drained of blood.
Andy stood up again, too fast. The room tilted and he had to catch himself on the edge of the sink. Thank God for the latex gloves, he thought. Would there be any shower long enough and hot enough to scorch him clean after this? It was the oldest cliché in the book, but Andy would never get used to seeing scenes like this. He would worry when his stomach didn't tighten up.
He had to get out of here. His pores felt clogged with grime, his nose packed with blood. He tasted it. He knew the evidence technicians had taken all of Paul's belongings — clothing, laptop, briefcase, any notes he might have made. Local cops hated it when the Bureau swept in demanding their evidence, their casework. He didn't blame them a bit, but he had done it himself and would do it again today. They didn't know what they were looking at, had no clue what the big picture was, and they could not be allowed to know. LA's Assistant Director in Charge himself had made that abundantly clear.
So Andy would supplement his walk-through with everything the LAPD's Hollywood Division had collected, and he would make enemies of the Hollywood cops in the bargain. Cementing the Bureau's reputation as a bunch of hard-nosed assholes who didn't care about the cops on the beat. Andy wasn't really that way, but there was nothing he could do about the perception.
Outside, he peeled off the gloves and booties, wadded them together and shoved them into one of the motel's outdoor garbage cans. He felt bad for the next homeless person who would reach in there, but not bad enough to want to carry the stuff away with him. The sooner he could put this all behind him, the better he'd like it.
It would not be behind him any time in the near future, he knew.
He still had to find Paul. Now, at least he had a better sense of what he was looking for.
Paul had never come right out and used the word to describe himself. But he and Andy had been on the Stella Olemaun case long enough to know what the word was. What Olemaun claimed it was, anyway, even though Andy had never been willing to accept her terminology.
The phrase Paul preferred, just because of who he was, had been "fuckin' bloodsuckers." To Stella Olemaun, a little more refined — and who wasn't, compared to Paul Norris? — the word was...no.
No way. I can't even go there or I'll just lose my mind.
Special Agent Andrew Gray didn't believe in anything of the sort.
Some of his colleagues may have been slightly more open-minded, but as far as Andy was concerned, Creature Features stopped running on TV a long time ago, so that was that. Life wasn't made up of rubber masks, campfire ghost stories, and dimly lit movie theaters; it was all the product of someone else's overactive imagination. He even hated bringing the girls to see Santa Claus, for Christ's sake.
Uh-uh. Beyond the garden-variety nutjobs, Bela Lugosi's dead, Herman Munster's on Nick at Nite, and everything else is bullshit, he had thought once upon a time.
But...that was before he had seen Paul last night at the local Bureau office.
They'd been partnered up for years. Paul was a lot of things, many of them unpleasant, but he had never been the...the thing that Andy had talked to yesterday.
He had been, in some undeniable, awful fashion, changed.
Recalling the encounter made Andy feel sick. Confused. Frightened. But he had to do it. He had to fill in all the impossible blanks with logic and reason or he would never rest. That was the way Andy was. Everything had to fit somewhere, with a label and clear definition. Andy Gray had no room in his logical brain for anything filed under supernatural...or unnatural.
He waved to the cops, Ybarra and Coggins, started the Crown Vic, pushed down the blinker arm, pulled out into the frantic traffic on Sunset. From here it wasn't far to Runyon Canyon Park. He could ignore the junkies, look at some patches of real grass and genuine trees, imagine for a minute that he was a long way from the city. He needed that right now, needed dirt under his shoes and the calls of birds other than pigeons and a glimpse of blue sky somewhere in the oppressive LA smog. He needed things that were real. Christ, he'd settle for anything this side of a nightmare.
What he really needed was a hug from Monica, and the laughter of his kids, Sara and Lisa, but he was too unclean even to talk to them. The park would just have to do for now.
As if that could somehow dispel the panic festering deep within him — the kind that would fill his world, seize him up as he drowned in the icy darkness growing inside his head.
Over and over he kept telling himself:
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